Why do wisdom teeth exist, and why are they called that anyway?

The third set of molars, commonly referred to as wisdom teeth, were originally called “teeth of wisdom” from the 17th to the 19th century. The name changed to “wisdom teeth” due to their appearance much later than the other teeth.

Linguists suggest that these molars are referred to as wisdom teeth because they emerge during a period when a person matures into adulthood, typically between the ages of 17 and 25 years. This is a time when a person is considered “wiser” compared to when the other adult teeth erupted during childhood.

Although wisdom teeth were once necessary for our ancestors, modern humans have evolved smaller jaws, leaving insufficient room for these teeth. As a result, they often cause issues and require removal. Despite their reputation for causing pain and discomfort, the name “wisdom teeth” continues to be a topic of interest and curiosity.

why are wisdom teeth called wisdom teeth

Why are wisdom teeth called wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth usually emerge during the late teenage or early twenties period when an individual is deemed to be more mature and “wise.” This age was once referred to as the “age of wisdom.” The term “wisdom teeth” was initially coined in the 1600s and has since become widely accepted.

According to scientific research, the third molars develop and erupt when the individual is, in reality, wiser. Recent studies have indicated that the human brain continues to mature through adolescence, and many scientists believe that the brain reaches full maturity at age 25.

This supports the idea that the ancestors believed that the eruption of the third molars signified the end of the carefree childhood era, as the individual welcomed the responsibilities of adulthood. As a result, wisdom teeth are often regarded as a symbol of growing up and reaching adulthood.

Why do wisdom teeth exist?

Research indicates that wisdom teeth were highly advantageous in the past but became progressively less important as human diets evolved.

The diet of ancient humans largely comprised coarse and hard foods that wore down the teeth over time. Consequently, teeth occupied less jaw space, allowing wisdom teeth to erupt fully without any issues.

In addition, the need to chew tough foods caused the jaw to evolve into a larger bone, providing sufficient space for wisdom teeth to erupt.

However, modern diets are softer and easier to chew, and dental care has significantly reduced early tooth loss and tooth wear, resulting in less oral space for wisdom teeth when they erupt.

As a result, many wisdom teeth today are either partially erupted or impacted, which can lead to complications such as gum disease, tooth decay, and infections. In some cases, impacted wisdom teeth can cause cysts that harm adjacent healthy teeth, nerves, and the jawbone.

Types of wisdom teeth 

Dental professionals categorize wisdom teeth as fully erupted, partially erupted, or un-erupted, with the latter two categories posing difficulties in proper cleaning.

  • Fully erupted wisdom teeth are those that have fully emerged from the gum line and are aligned with the other teeth.
  • Partially erupted wisdom teeth are those that have only partially emerged from the gum line, leaving some of the tooth still covered by gum tissue.
  • Un-erupted wisdom teeth are those that have not emerged at all and remain fully encased in the jawbone.

To avoid dental problems with your wisdom teeth, it is important to schedule regular dental check-ups. Your dentist can help spot possible problems early and treat them before they become a nuisance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some theories on wisdom teeth back then and now?

There are various theories as to why humans have wisdom teeth. One theory suggests that these teeth were present in our ancestors who had longer jaws, which could accommodate the extra tooth as the jaw reached adulthood. This theory implies that over time, due to changes in the human diet, the jaws have become shorter, but the number of teeth has remained the same.

Another theory proposes that wisdom teeth were required in the past to replace teeth that were lost due to overuse during development.

However, regardless of the theories, wisdom teeth are the most common teeth for humans to be missing.

Why do wisdom teeth exist if they often need to be removed?

Wisdom teeth exist because they were necessary for our ancient ancestors, who had larger jaws and needed the extra molars to grind and chew tough plant fibers. However, as our diets and jaw structures evolved over time, wisdom teeth became less necessary and often cause issues, leading to their removal.

Why are they called “wisdom teeth” if they usually cause issues instead of solving them?

The term “wisdom teeth” is actually a translation of the Latin term “dentes sapientiae.” It is believed that these molars are called wisdom teeth because they usually emerge during a person’s late teenage years or early adulthood, which was once considered a time of greater wisdom and maturity.

Is wisdom teeth removal wise?

The decision to remove wisdom teeth depends on the individual case. In some cases, wisdom teeth may need to be removed if they are causing pain, infection, or damaging adjacent teeth. In other cases, if the wisdom teeth are healthy, fully erupted, and properly positioned, they may not need to be removed.

You should discuss the potential risks and benefits of wisdom teeth removal with your dentist or oral surgeon before deciding to get them extracted.

How long does it typically take for wisdom teeth to fully erupt?

The time it takes for wisdom teeth to fully erupt can vary greatly from person to person, but on average, it takes about 3-4 years for all four wisdom teeth to fully emerge. In some cases, wisdom teeth may remain impacted and never fully erupt, while in other cases, they may erupt earlier or later than usual.

Do all people get wisdom teeth?

No, not all people develop wisdom teeth. It is estimated that around 20% to 25% of people do not have any wisdom teeth. Additionally, some people may only develop one or two wisdom teeth instead of the typical four.


  • Editorial team

    A team comprising oral health care professionals, researchers, and professional Writers, striving to impart you with the knowledge to improve your oral health, and that of your loved ones. 

  • Lilly

    Lilly, aka, Liza Lee, is a passionate community oral health officer and our lead writer. She's not only well-versed in performing a multitude of dental procedures, including preventive, restorative, and cosmetic, but also an avid writer. Driven by the significant oral health burden all around her, Lilly strives to build capacity and promote oral health. She envisions making a lasting impact by advancing research, prevention, and promotion efforts to alleviate oral health disparities. Please share your views and opinions on my posts.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top